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Is It Really That Simple? (Warning: Self-Indulgence Ahead!)

On the road to Happiness

On the road to Happiness

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately. I know—shocker. It’s not like I’ve been keeping that little tidbit to myself.

I’ve been wrestling with the whole job situation (which is finally resolved), and I feel like I went a few rounds with Brock Lesnar in a UFC cage fight. I feel battered, bruised, worn out and a little…blah. In a word: Unhappy.

A couple of nights ago Bill and I were talking about all of this. I was trying to explain what was bothering me and what was rattling around in my head, and while he’s understanding and supportive, he and I approach things very differently. Sometimes I’m not sure he “gets me.”

His response to all of this? “You just have to make up your mind and be happy.”

Really? It’s that simple? Just make up your mind and that’s that. Well, shit, why the hell didn’t I think of that?

I clearly don’t come from a place of happy. Which isn’t to say I’m constantly unhappy. Or even depressed. But I get do get those feelings of…meh.

Where I get stuck...

Where I get stuck...

Not to belittle Bill’s advice, but I do believe that we’re hardwired to either be easy-going and go-with-the-flow people, or we’re more anxious and stressed people. I’m clearly the latter. I think it’s like height. No matter how much I wish I were taller, I will always be 4’11”. No matter how much I wish I were easy going and relaxed, I’m the Glass is Half Empty girl. Period. Do I like it? Not really. Am I satisfied with that? No. It blows. It’s a crappy way to wade through life. But I don’t believe it’s a simple as making up your mind. I think it’s got to be more complicated than that. If it’s not, I’m clearly doing something wrong.

Wikipedia defines happiness as “a state of mind or feeling such as contentment, satisfaction, pleasure or joy.” (Yeah, I know, this shouldn’t really be my source, but whatever.)

Using that definition, I get satisfaction from working hard and doing a good job. I get pleasure from spending time with my husband and friends and family and Gracie. All of the things researchers say are keys to happiness. But joy? I don’t know. That’s a tough one for me. Personally, I think joy is a spiritual term, one that I’m not connected with right now. To experience joy you have to fully open up to life, which I’m clearly not doing.

But I think it’s much deeper than satisfaction. Engagement and meaning are crucial to happiness (and to joy), and that’s where I fall short. Life is dynamic. It’s constantly changing and evolving. I want to evolve with it. The irony is that I’m so busy “evolving” that I’m regressing. It’s not that I’ve checked out. It’s that I get hung up. I dissect everything. I have to analyze, examine, mull, ponder and chew on it. I tend to overlook the things that matter because I obsess over what really doesn’t. I am not fully engaged in life because my head is stuck firmly up my own ass.

Bill is much better at letting things go and getting on with his life. He is fully engaged and has found meaning. He’s better able to focus on what matters: relationships and service. He finds meaning in his family, his friends and service to the community. He’s able to get beyond the bullshit and minutiae of life and actually embrace life.

This is where his Julie the Cruise Director personality and my Gregory House personality collide. 

So how do I get from where I am to where he is? How do I pay attention to the happiness that I know is there? How do I stay focused on that? That’s the million dollar question. I wish there was a switch that I could just flip. Some people recommend keeping a Gratitude Journal. The theory being that if you stop and consciously think of the good and record it, you will become happier. There are versions of that all over the web. I’ve even tried to do it, but I gave up on it.

And it’s not that I don’t feel I have anything to be happy about. (I’m cynical, but not that cynical.) I think my problem is that I always want more. I always want to do better, be better. Instead of being satisfied with where I am and what I’m doing, I wonder what else I can do, how much better I can be. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t believe ambition is a dirty word. But there’s a stepping stone between that and happiness and for some reason I keep trying to leap frog over that.

Where I want to be...

Where I want to be...

Do I just wake up tomorrow and commit to being happy? Can it really be that simple? Is it more in what you do and how you go about it? Or is it part of your “factory wiring” as Lesley calls it?


13 Responses

  1. Happiness is overrated.

    Well, maybe not overrated, but it’s not the only thing in life which matters—and some of us focus on those other things.

    I live in a city which makes me crazy and work multiple jobs and write (with no near hope of publication) and, somehow, it makes sense to me.

    Does it make me happy? Not really, but it doesn’t make me unhappy, either. What it does do is give me a sense of my own life, that it is my own life, and that satisfies me deeply.

    So what matters to you, Mo? Are you focusing on happiness because it truly matters to you, or because you think it ought to matter?

    You married a happy, and by your accounts, good man. You can be a good woman without necessarily being a happy one.

    So what kind of good woman do you want to be?

  2. I think happiness is totally UNDERRATED! (No slight at all intended toward Absurdbeats!) I think way too many people in life settle for whatever comes their way and try to make the most of it. It isn’t easy sometimes to really seek your joy…sometimes it’s downright terrifying. It involves risk a lot of them time and often comes hand in hand with heartbreak and disappointment.

    But one thing I’ve always loved about you is that you are always seeking and thinking and searching and yearning. I know you drive yourself nuts with it sometimes (I’m the same way – hello, Overthinkers Anonymous), but ultimately I think it makes you brave. What I wish most for you is that you learn to love yourself much more and cut yourself way more breaks along the way of your journey. It’s okay to not have the answers. It’s okay to struggle. You’re not doing anything wrong. Exactly who you are each step of the way is exactly who you’re supposed to be.


  3. Utterly offended!

    Nah. But your comment prompts me to ask ‘what is happiness’ anyway?

    I slide to the snark too easily (one of the reason’s I love your blog, Mo, and, by the way, you don’t mind if I have a conversation with Lesley, do you?) and thus too easily happiness as a kind of, mm, intoxication, I guess. Enjoyable, but not to be trusted, and dangerous if indulged too often.

    So, I guess to both of you: what do you mean by happiness?

    • Hi absurdbeats! *waves wildly*

      I think you totally hit the nail on the head: The key to it all is being able to find your own personal answer to the question, “What is happiness?” Because I think for some people that’s at the heart of the struggle – figuring out exactly what the answer is. It’s too easy to get caught up in what the world says is supposed to make you happy – money, a certain career, possessions, being envied by others…whatever. But there’s not one definition – I’m pretty sure it’s different for everyone and that’s what makes the world go ’round, as they say!

      For me, it’s always been the totally simple things, most of which all revolve around feeling really connected to the people I love. For the most part, I can’t stand people (OMG GO AWAY, EVERYONE!), but for the handful I deeply love, to feel connected and loved back is everything. I need that and some animals in my life and a great book to read and my regular dinners out with Mo and I’m all good! Whatever else life gives me on top of that is just gravy!

  4. Great post, Mo. And I agree that a gratitude log will make you happier–this from someone who writes one. It may just help you look for the positive more, but that isn’t going to make you smile all the time.

    I think that we don’t always know that we’re happy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mundane and the bull in life that we aren’t aware that our lives make us happy. I felt the same way you did once and then I was offered a job that was going to move me to the East Coast (something I have wanted to do forever). That opportunity made me take a look at my life and I realized that for the first time in a long time, I was truly happy and I liked my life. But I had to really stop and think about it.

    IMHO, I think joy is overrated. We can have joyful moments, but I kind of think you have to be doing some fabulous drugs to be joyful 24/7.

  5. Ok, it’s not about being “happy” all the time; grinning like some drunken fool. It’s not choosing to focus on being happy while ignoring serious issues. Don’t over think this my dear; try not to stress over the secretof happiness; meanwhile missing out on today.

    It is all about living in the present; be serious when needed; be driven when passionate; work hard; play hard; smile when your happy, cry when your sad. Just be; when you are. Live the moment, seize the day; don’t sweat the small stuff because the clock will continue to turn and life will be over before one has a chance to live it; just worry about it.

  6. This debate is going way, way better than the cow debate.

    I’m just sayin’.

  7. Ha ha, Lesley…. I do agree with Bill to a great extent, but also, for me happiness lies in the pursuit — the striving for more, the planning, the next “project”. Contentment, I think is a bit akin to death. If you have nothing left to achieve, to pursue, to aim for — no more goals…when you’re perfectly happy with everything exactly the way it is, then what? So, in summary, I think you’re happiness is in NOT being content, the excitement/essence of your life is in the pursuit, the dissatisfaction that spurs you on. You should revel in that. (And, PS: 4′ 11″?? Really?)

  8. You could wake up tomorrow and write down the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe even sit in the sun for ONE MINUTE and write down your first thoughts. Do that for a week, a month a whatever – and go back and read it. What comes up? If it repeats and is negative – do all that you can to get rid of it.

    (Or have you heard this somewhere before? I have had several clients over the years with the same stuff going on. You aren’t alone. And it’s the ‘glass half empty’ about you that makes you right for Bill, by the way. Us ‘choose to be happy’ types need people who can keep us grounded. But don’t assume that it’s easier or better to ‘choose happiness’ – there’s an awful lot of sweeping under the rug that happens and comes back to bite us in the ass.)

    The trick is to be fully engaged in the journey, right. Just engage in it and ride the ups and the downs like a roller-coaster. Feel them all – the laughs and the tears. It’s a balance of both that makes happiness, in my humble opinion.)

  9. Our Bills couldn’t be more different. Before we started dating, everyone at work used to call him Eeyore. I think he’s happier, but its hard to tell sometimes and one of the things that made me happy when we started dating was that everyone said there was a huge change and they couldn’t call him Eeyore anymore. He is just someone who keeps it all inside.

    I think I’m naturally a generally happy person, although I went through a major clinical depression for about 5 years starting when I was a teenager. I’m pretty sure it was genetic, since my mother, several of her siblings, and my brother all went through the same thing. I remember my brother asking me how I got over it, but I couldn’t really explain it to him. It just slowly happened over a year or so. Later, I went through one when my first husband and I were getting a divorce. I also personally see nothing wrong with taking something like Prozac for a while to reset chemical imbalance in the brain if the depression is too bad (I’m not saying yours is).

    I think you, (your) Bill, and Lesley are all correct. Being happy is somewhat hardwired by our individual personalities, but you shouldn’t stress over the secret of happiness, because there probably isn’t any one secret. It is all individual. And life can definitely be a roller coaster ride (ok, this just didn’t come out nearly as eloquently as it sounded in my head).

    I’m 5’2″ and at one time I had a phobia about being around people shorter than me. I would almost hyperventilate when I took William to school, so just remember that there are people out there with weirder hangups and some of them are frightened of you!

  10. Wow. Sorry that was so long, too.

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